Editors note: after some dialogue with those that picked this barrel, Diageo claims this bourbon was not distilled at Four Roses and that Diageo has its own five special yeasts that are different from the Four Roses yeasts. But they won’t say who distilled it. Diageo also claims they are using two mashbills that are slightly lower in rye than used by Four Roses. Two mashbills and five yeasts is all Seagram’s no matter how you look at it. Given the history of Diageo and Four Roses, and what my palate tells me, I stand by this post.
Hokus Pokus is the first retailer in the state to pick a Bulleit Single Barrel bourbon barrel. Bulleit does not even have a regular single barrel product as far as I can tell, so this is something they are doing for store picks only.
It weighs in at a nice 104 proof; higher than the Four Roses Single Barrel but lower than the Four Roses Single Barrel store picks that are true cask strength. Why do I keep mentioning Four Roses? Well, there is a lot of history there…
Bulleit originally was distilled at Buffalo Trace under contact when the distillery was known as Ancient Age, using the high rye mashbill of that distillery. The brand was then sold to Seagram’s who moved production to Four Roses distillery, which it owned at the time. Seagram’s got into financial trouble because of non-beverage investments and their beverage empire was carved up and sold piecemeal. Four Roses Distillery was sold to Kirin of Japan, largely because Four Roses was taken out of the American market in the 1950’s by Seagrams but was heavily marketed in Asia, so it was a good fit for Kirin. As a side note Seagram’s Indiana plant was sold first to Pernod Ricard, who then sold it to a nefarious group out of Trinidad and Tabago, which then collapsed into bankruptcy, and was then sold to MGP (Midwest Grain Products of Kansas). Seagram’s alcohol brands and intellectual property were sold to European beverage giant Diageo (formerly United Distillers) who then owned the Bulleit brand and kept production of it at Four Roses. Recently Sazerac which owns Buffalo Trace purchased most of those Seagram’s brands from Diageo, but not the well selling Bulleit, which ironically was the one brand Diageo had that used to be made at Buffalo Trace/Ancient Age.
I love bourbon. An elegant drink with an entirely nefarious history.
Bulleit, for a while there, was the only way to get Four Roses in the United States. But no one really knew that. Diageo essentially repackaged its Four Roses bourbon as Bulleit for the U.S. market. Interestingly, the tag on this bourbon discloses as much, noting that they use ten different distillates (and they are claiming ownership of those), and that’s definitely Four Roses.
Now, Diageo is distilling and aging its own bourbon at the Stitzel Weller distillery (and I have written much about Pappy Van Winkle’s former distillery), but it will be a few years before that bourbon hits the bottle. Will it be different, or will it be the same mashbills and yeasts designed by Seagram’s years earlier at Four Roses to which Seagram’s obviously retained the rights when the distillery was sold to Kirin so it could keep selling Bulleit, and then those rights were sold to Diageo? Only time will tell. I am pretty sure Diageo has the rights to make Bulleit any way they want.
So, what do we have in the bottle? A nice 104 proof medium mouthfeel Four Roses, probably around eight years old, definitely the high rye variety, with a floral yeast. Medium finish. So, for the Four Roses experts out there, this is OBSF, based on what my palate is telling me. It definitely reminds me of the 130th Anniversary edition, with the herbal tea notes. Catherine tasted it and agreed with me on the floral notes. It is also different from the standard Four Roses Single Barrel, which is always OBSV, which is high rye with delicate fruit.
A very nice sipping bourbon, but not of the after dinner variety. It’s not thick, syrupy, or oaked. But definitely a nice late afternoon early evening sipper. Hokus did a great pick on this, and I didn’t know Bulleit even did Single Barrel picks. The other thing I learned from the tag is that standard Bulleit uses all ten Four Roses recipes, just as the standard Four Roses release does. Now, they might use different proportions of the various bourbons, but if you are a Bulleit fan Four Roses may be your new go to, and if you are a Four Roses standard release fan add Bulleit to your list. At least for now, they are essentially the same thing.
Who knows in the future? Who knows what business deal may come together where bourbon, a thing I think is precious, is merely commoditized and sold. As a business bankruptcy guy, the commoditization and sale of everything is what pays to stock my bar. So I really like the Bulleit Single Barrel, for not so sentimental reasons.